Mary Kate Place and fellow drama club student Hayden Daniel from Coupeville Elementary School rehearse for the musical ‘James and the Giant Peach Jr.” Thursday, Jan. 26, 2017 in the school’s multi-purpose room. Cheridan Eck, foreground, volunteers as the production’s choreographer. Photo by Ron Newberry/Whidbey News-Times

Coupeville Elementary prepares to tackle ‘James and the Giant Peach Jr.’

Wendy Wasik couldn’t be more proud of her little earthworm.

That’s the role her son Nicholas is playing in the Coupeville Elementary School production, “James and the Giant Peach Jr.,” which will be performed next month.

“My son is very shy so this really brings him out,” Wendy Wasik said. “It allows him to really explore his acting side and really just allows him to come alive.”

The musical is an ambitious project for the school’s drama club that was started by teacher Stephanie Gebhard 14 years ago.

She wanted to challenge the children a little more this school year with a musical and decided to offer drama club to only fourth and fifth graders instead of including third graders, too.

Only 36 students will take part in the play, nearly half of the usual number, but nearly all have drama club experience.

“This is definitely the most music we’ve ever tried,” Gebhard said.

Since late October, the club has been rehearsing for two performances in the middle school’s Performing Arts Center, Feb. 10-11. The show for the public is at noon Saturday, Feb. 11.

“James and the Giant Peach is such an ambitious production,” said Wasik, who volunteers to help Gebhard by being in charge of costumes. “I think Stephanie is doing an amazing job getting these elementary school kids to do a musical. This is a fast-paced-timing musical. She’s really working with the kids. They have to listen and pay attention and cue off of each other. So it’s really a lot of good life skills with reading each other, reading a character and portraying a character as they see it, not as we see it. They’re actually developing into the characters themselves.”

Gebhard’s support team also includes Addie Peabody, co-director; Cheridan Eck, choreography; Brian Vick, sound, and Ian Somes, music.

Nathan Ginnings and David Somes share the role of the story’s hero James in the Music Theatre International production.

“I just want to be part of the play because it’s fun and it gives me something to do,” said Ginnings, a fifth grader.

Gebhard has seen her students show tremendous growth in the drama club and shed their shyness.

“I think it helps their confidence,” she said. “It just gives them a new spot to shine, which is what I like. Even their reading skills go up because they’ve having to read their script.”

Some kids are just naturals onstage, Gebhard said. Fifth grader Hayden Harry is one of them.

As Ladahlord, Harry serves as a guiding narrator of the story with a fair share of singing and dancing.

He said he loves the energy that comes with performing.

“I love being in plays because it’s where you can be dramatic,” Harry said.